Author Malcolm Gladwell devoted much of his best seller “Outliers” to this concept:
People born early in the year make up a disproportionate percentage of elite athletes. As the oldest in their age groups, January babies are bigger and stronger earlier and draw more attention from coaches.
Micki Renick, a North Thurston High School freshman-to-be, is an outlier to the “Outliers” premise. Born December 28, 2004, she barely qualifies for the 15-18 age group, but will represent the United States in speed skating at the World Roller Games in Barcelona early in July.
Renick went to the national outdoor Track and Road Championships at Pikes Peak International Raceway in Colorado during mid-May expecting nothing more than to add to a catalog of racing experiences.
A second-place finish in the final event, the 15,000 meters, skated at Pike’s Peak’s 8,000 feet altitude, broke a tie for the final spot on Team USA, earning Renick a trip to Spain.
“I felt like the pressure was on,” she said. “Before we left we had a party. Everyone was wishing me good luck making team USA. My thought process was ‘Well, great, now everybody’s pressuring me, what if I don’t make it?’
“A lot of the girls I was skating against were heavy hitters, the big names I’ve looked up to. Luckily for me a lot of them prefer sprints and I prefer endurance.”
Renick thought her youth worked against her in the sprints, where older competitors not only were stronger, but had learned to use their fast twitch muscles more effectively. When it came to her specialty, the distance races, she had no such concerns.
“I knew I could compete with every one of those girls in the endurance events,” she said.
“By the second day, Micki was on the map, scoring some points. We started to think, ‘This might really happen,’” her mom and coach, Meagan Renick, said.
Most equate speed skating with short track indoor competition. Skating 15,000 meters – 9.3 miles – outdoors while trying to defeat other skaters is entirely different.
“You’re going uphill, downhill, there’s wind, there can be rain. There can be a right turn on the course,” Renick said.
Which events Renick will skate in Barcelona are yet to be determined. Team USA coaches will assign athletes to races after watching final practices on site. Renick will likely compete at the longest distances.
Her earliest possible event would be on July 6. Races will be streamed over the World Roller Games website, with some broadcast on cable TV’s Olympic Channel.
Renick, an only child, was born into skating, visiting a rink for the first time when she was 3-weeks-old. She put on skates as soon as she could walk and competing successfully in races by age 5.
“Not only did I like the competition, but it was fun. I’ve made a lot of friends skating, from here to Florida,” she said.
Her mom had grown up near Olympia’s Skateland and her single dad often dropped her and her sister at the rink for full days, sparking a life of competing and coaching in speed skating, rink hockey and roller derby. Meagan met Micki’s dad Mike, a speed skater and jam skater, at Skateland.
“We’ve always told her, ‘The moment you don’t love to skate anymore, we’re out,’” Meagan Renick said. “’Do it because you want to, not because we did it.’”
That moment has yet to arrive. But Micki doesn’t have tunnel vision on the sport. She’s played basketball, run track and swam competitively. She tried tap dancing, ballet and cheerleading.
A recent graduate of Aspire, the North Thurston district’s performing arts magnet middle school, she can play 13 musical instruments, — her focus is clarinet but also enjoys trombone and xylophone.
She recently served as a page in the state senate and politics or law enforcement are likely future career paths.
She’s been a member of the color guard at North Thurston since seventh grade, an activity that challenges even an elite athlete.
“You do a lot of up-on-your-toes ballerina work, so my calves get sore. Skating after that can be painful. Usually skating nine-to-10 miles doesn’t bother me.”
Her mom is her primary coach at Auburn Speed, the club that sent Apolo Ohno and J.R. Celski on to speed skating on ice and the Winter Olympics. The commute reflects the Renicks’ commitment to the sport.
“It takes 45 minutes to an hour each way, so we’re taking two hours out of our days, four days a week, in drive time. Practice starts at 8 or 8:30 and last until 9:30 or 10, so we don’t get home until 11,” Renick said.
Meagan coaches not only in Auburn but in Tacoma. Occasionally, Micki has wound up on skates seven days a week, for her own training sessions and as an example, showing kids in Tacoma correct techniques.
Even though she wasn’t Micki’s official coach at the USA championships and won’t be in Barcelona, Meagan has a way of connecting with her daughter during meets.
“I don’t know how much interaction we’ll be able to have in Spain, but she always finds me in the stands. We’ll make eye contact and use sign language,” Meagan said. “We’re super close, so coaching her has been wonderful. I’ve been able to see her best moments first hand.
“My husband and I looked at each other at one point and said ‘Wow, we got her here.’ All her hard work, all our coaching, the driving back and forth, came to fruition.”
Ohno’s example and a burning desire to compete in the Olympics will ultimately tempt Renick, who has dabbled on ice before, to give up wheeled skate for the bladed variety.
Though there’s enough carry over to make the transition doable, the two sports can be very different.
“I did ice before for a couple of years. For me, it’s not as thrilling or as fun,” Renick said. “But I want to go to the Olympics, so I’m going to have to try it.”
The changes in technique are significant.
“There are a lot of similarities but there are also quite a few differences. The way you transfer your weight is kind of similar, but the form is different. The way you step into corners is different,” she said.
Renick doesn’t need to swap out her skates immediately. Because of age limits and the every-four-years nature of Olympic competition, her first shot to make the American team on ice won’t come until the 2026 games in Northern Italy when she’ll be 21.